Written by Stuart Allen
Did you know testicular cancer is the most diagnosed cancer in men ages 20-35? Nearly 9,000 men are diagnosed in the U.S. every year. I was one of those men at the age of 28.
Men’s health, physical or mental, can be a difficult subject for many of us to talk about. That is why events like “Movember” are so important for us to celebrate. It not only brings awareness to the issues we face, but it allows us to share our experiences and concerns that we may not his otherwise share.
Hearing “you have cancer” alone in an emergency room bed was a surreal experience. It was the last thing I would have expected just a month prior. I was working out 5 days a week, eating right (for the most part), and had never dealt with serious or chronic health issues of any kind.
About 2 months prior to diagnosis the first warning sign for me was a skin rash that appeared all over my body. It was diagnosed as guttate psoriasis. From a couple of feet away it looked like I had mosquito bites all over. Up close, you could tell that they were tiny dry spots. I was very self-conscious about it, and at the time was more concerned with how it looked than anything else. I had no idea what it was actually signaling. I was given a steroid cream that worked where applied but the spots kept appearing in new places. While this was still an issue, the more obvious warning sign became my left testicle increasing in size. This started about 3-4 weeks before diagnosis.
At first I tried to convince myself it was just in my head. As it became more obvious, I googled possibilities. There were many, including cancer. Again, I tried to convince myself that wasn’t the case. After a few weeks, it became too obvious something was going on and was clearly only getting worse.
I went in to an urgent care because at 28 I didn’t have or see a need for a primary care physician (WRONG). At urgent care the doctor had clear concern. I was sent to Dublin Methodist Hospital for an ultrasound. I didn’t leave for 48 hours.
In that time, blood tests and scans were run and an orchiectomy was performed to to remove my left testicle. The scans revealed that the cancer had not metastasized, which was my biggest concern in that time. The doctors were confident with my age and relative health, I would recover. The question was how difficult would the battle be and due to the stage 1 diagnosis, I was very relieved. Within about 2 weeks of my orchiectomy my skin issue had cleared up. I learned how internal health issues can often manifest themselves through your skin.
I was given a few options for treatment moving forward: 1) Do nothing else. The scans and blood work were clean after surgery and chemo and radiation are hard on your body. 2) Preventative radiation near the area. There were many risks with radiation including causing a second cancer and infertility due to the location. 3) Go through a single round of chemo, which would lower the risk of reoccurrence by 50%.
I opted to go through 1 round of chemo. While my scans and blood work were clean, the doctors would not rule out a possibility of a few cancer cells remaining in my body. The chemo would likely kill those cells.
September 27th marked 5 years since diagnosis. I consider myself to be very lucky. So lucky that I was uncomfortable calling myself a cancer survivor for the first year or so. That felt like a badge of honor to be worn by people who had been to hell and back in their battles. My hardest battle was the pain in recovery from the orchiectomy (they go in through your lower abdomen. It did not feel good at all to stand or to lift my left leg for a few weeks) and feeling a bit crappy from chemo.
Through events like Movember and self-educating, I realized it’s not about how deserving I am. It’s about spreading awareness and helping others to understand the warning signs.
Guys, the best thing you can do for yourself is self-checks. Cancer doesn’t discriminate. I still go to the James once a year for blood work, and my doctor harps on monthly self-checks every time.
Be aware of 1) changes in shape and size 2) discomfort in the area 3) fluid build up in your scrotum and 4) pain in your lower abdomen. Get checked if you notice any of these symptoms.
Nutritionally, it’s been recommended I eat a vegetable rich diet and avoid red and processed meats as much as possible. All things we probably already know but hate to hear. I still eat red meat on occasion.
Testicular cancer is a very curable cancer. There is a 90% survival rate or higher, depending on type. Infertility is also a major concern based on the age range when most men are diagnosed. Other hormonal concerns can arise as well. Like with all cancers, survival rate, difficulty of treatment and possible long-term side effects are dependent on early diagnosis. I was lucky my symptoms were so obvious I could not ignore them at an early stage.
Our families and friends deserve our best. We can’t give that to them if we aren’t taking care of ourselves first. Be in-tune with your body, eat well, exercise, have a primary care physician, see them annually and don’t be afraid to voice concerns no matter how “dumb” they may seem. It may not be life-threatening but it might be life-changing.